Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Summer Camp for Families and Kids with Special Needs

For I am about to do something new… 
I will make a pathway through the wilderness.
I will create rivers in the dry wasteland. 
Isaiah 43:16,19 NLT 

I was 8 years old when my mom and dad let me go to Summer Church Camp. I still vividly remember falling to my knees with my camp counselor and asking Jesus to come in and fill my heart. Summer Church Camp continued to make an immense impact in my journey as a Christ follower.

Our other children also enjoyed camp, youth retreats, and mission trips -- all except our last child, Bethany. Bethany just turned 17 and has Down Syndrome. What was an adventure and growing opportunity for our other children, didn’t work for with Bethany's special needs and maturity level.

But God doesn't make our lives out of a spiritual cookie cutter! He is a God of new beginnings, new ways, new paths, new solutions -- if I will just let go of the past and look for how He is guiding. He makes a way when there seems to be no way.

Oftentimes, parenting a child with special needs can feel isolating, lonely, and similar to a “wilderness” or "desert place". While everyone seems to be enjoying “normal” summer vacations and camps, we search/pray/wish for something that will work for our children. Something where they can flourish, be confident and comfortable, and be accepted just as God created them.

How does a parent of a child with special needs provide a glorious summer time experience that is common to most typical kids?  
I’ve looked into Camps for kids with special needs, and while they look amazing, Bethany hasn’t really been around lots of kids with special needs and has never spent more than 2 nights at a time away from us. I’ve contemplated sending her to a typical Christian camp but realized she would either need someone to help keep her up to speed or I would need to go and be her counselor.

This year, a wonderful opportunity presented itself in the “medium” Bethany is most accustomed to: A Christian Family Inter-generational Camp.

We just got back from a Christian Family Camp and I have to encourage you to check out this option if you’re nervous or if they're nervous to go to camp alone. (Just google it and you'll be amazed how many places are offering a camp experience for the whole family!)

The absolute beauty was this: Bethany got to experience camp but in the context of her comfort zone -- Family.
3 Reasons Christian Family Camp Worked For Us 

  1. Family Support  - While developing community and common experiences with other families, Bethany was surrounded by 4 nieces, a nephew, a sister, a brother-in-love, and her parents! This camp was open to any conglomeration of family; blended family, grandparents, single parents, cousins and any combination. Family was the starting point, the launch pad, and the end place of camp. (But the flip side was our family wasn't in charge of orchestrating the fun, the food, or the fellowship times!) The games, devotions, crafts, swimming, archery, horse back riding, and obstacle course were the commonality that was shared by the whole community.                             
  2. Structured/Unstructured - The days and evenings were structured with plenty of personal space intermixed and all activities were optional and scheduled by the individual family. Bethany, Cadence and I took a 2 hour nap Saturday afternoon (which met our needs), while Sarah, Finley, Jeff, and Cohen did the obstacle course and archery. We all met up later to swim before dinner. The camp directors provided an hour of activities for all the kids while there was a time of encouragement and respite for the parents/grandparents.                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
  3. Warm and Accepting Community - We didn’t have to worry about behavior or oddity or not fitting in. Everyone was friendly -- each family was different. There were crying children, clingy children, whiny children, uncooperative children. Everyone just took it in stride. I reveled in the relaxing, accepting attitude. There were no dirty looks or snide comments, just warm community.
sign at our camp!
I know that Family Camp isn't for everyone. Some parents enjoy the respite and the break it provides when their child is at camp, knowing their child is well cared for and having fun! 

Other parents feel camp is a rite of passage and another step into independence.  

While this is true, the point is that God can and will make a way for each of our children. One that fits their needs and ours.  

I'm thankful our daughter, Sarah, found this family camp and invited us to join in with their family. It was the perfect answer for our family and Bethany this summer.  

Be encouraged, even if you can't do the exact same experiences for your children with special needs, God will make a way -- create a path in the wilderness for you and your child. I'm learning to keep my eyes and heart open to new things He might want to do in our lives, while letting go of what worked in the past.  

Prayer: Wonderful Way-Maker, You are a God of making a way when there seems to be no way. You delight in bringing water to the desert places of our lives. I pray that we would seek you to open up ways for our children to experience You and enjoy life. Thank you for Your care and creativity in our lives. In Jesus Name Amen. 

Cindy Barclay


  1. If this was a camp from the Joni and Friend Ministries, then I know it was wonderful! I was a short term missionary in 2000, and though it was a lot of hard work, it was so worth it! Some day, I hope to be able to do it again. I'm glad you all were able to enjoy it.

    1. Hi Barbara! This wasn't a camp from Jonie and Friend Ministries - we've tried to work things out to go but never have gotten to go- however this camp was fun- and only 30 minutes from our home! So convenient and wonderful family fun.

  2. I have had similar feelings about camp. I went last year with my daughter to camp for our kids through church and it was very difficult because it lacked handicap accessibility. I want my daughter to be with her PEERS, I want it to a BIBLICAL camp, and I want it to be accessible...but all of those things put together don't seem to be easy to find. I do like the family camp idea!

    1. Hi Tammie, It's a conundrum isn't it?? Where will they thrive and get the best camp experience? (anything experience) Family Camp was our perfect fit because she got time with us but also mingled among the other kids and made some new friends. Bethany seems to be able to make lots of friends younger than her and older than her but she doesn't seem to relate that well to kids her age. (16/17) Someone assured me that is typical and will diminish as she enters the adult world. After we all went, I googled family camps in our area and was surprised to find 4 more within an hours drive from us. Blessings as you journey on-